National rank: 81st
The experience quarterback Zac Wegner gained in starting the final six games last season will have a lot to do with the Jayhawks' expanded passing attack this season. At tailback, David Winbush is 5-7, but he has gained 20 pounds since his freshman season, when he rushed for 338 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He is the likeliest candidate to replace the departed Eric Vann. Also likely to see increased playing time is tailback Mitch Bowles, whom coach Terry Allen called the most underused player on the team last season in light of his 8.3-yard average.
Although all five starters return, it would be a reach to call this an area of strength. KU has nowhere to go but up after finishing 11th in the league and 92nd in the country in rushing last season. Justin Glasgow is a bona fide all-conference candidate at guard, and converted defensive lineman Dan Dercher could round into one at tackle. JC transfer John Oddonetto is likely to make an immediate impact, probably at tackle.
Allen's newly minted passing offense was hobbled from the start last year by a lack of good receivers. Then John Gordon was lost for the season because of a heart condition and Harrison Hill suffered a broken ankle in the second game. As a result, KU was forced to use two former walk-ons as starters for the rest of the year. But the news is better now. Termaine Fulton emerged as a big-play guy, Gordon is expected to be cleared to play and Hill is back. In addition, the team's top recruit, Byron Gasaway, is a wide receiver. At tight end, Brian Gray will be more involved as KU tries to employ more of a West Coast attack.
Brett McGraw and Dewey Houston, who combined for 60 starts and more than 200 career tackles, are gone, leaving end Dion Johnson as the sole returning starter. John Williams was a solid backup at nose tackle last year, and Adrian Greene, a force at end as a sophomore two years ago, is back after sitting out last season as an academic redshirt.
This is one place where KU could afford some losses, and it's a good thing. KU career sack leader Ron Warner and Jason Thoren, a three-year starter, need to be replaced. Patrick Brown returns at one outside spot, and former JC All-American Hanson Caston has been penciled into Warner's old spot. Steve Bratten, who had 10 tackles for losses last year, will fill one inside spot, and a group of about six players will compete for time at the other.
It's not a stretch to say that the success or failure of the defense depends on what happens here. First, the Jayhawks have to replace three of four starters. Second, whoever steps in will be playing man-to-man coverage instead of the zone used last year. Cornerback Jamie Harris is the only returning starter. JC transfer Muhammad Abdul-Rahim could start on the other side. At safety, look for Chad Coellner and Michael Allen to be the probable starters.
Joe Garcia is back after a solid freshman year in which he made 11-of-14 field-goal attempts. At punter, Joey Pelfanio, the seventh-best JC punter in the country last season, steps in to replace second-team all-conference pick Dean Royal. The punt- and kickoff-return duties are up for grabs.
The non-conference part is weak and four consecutive home games late in the season is enticing, but will it be enough to help the Jayhawks win more games this season than last?
In their second year since leaving a highly successful program at Division I-AA Northern Iowa, Allen and his assistants are, admittedly, still learning the I-A ropes. They earned a longer honeymoon by leading Kansas to a better-than-expected 5-6 finish last year.
Expect the Jayhawks to be better as a team, but don't necessarily expect it to be reflected in their record.